The Mad Ones: Crazy Joe Gallo and the Revolution at the Edge of the Underworld by Tom Folsom

Tom Folsom's “highly entertaining” take on the saga of Joe Gallo adds to the legacy of the man who was the hero of Bob Dylan's ballad “Joey,” and at the center of Jimmy Breslin’s comic novel

(Weinstein, 224 pages, $24.95)

Joey Gallo never was a major power in the criminal underworld. He ranked as the No. 2 man to his older brother, Larry, in a small Brooklyn, N.Y., gang that specialized in jukeboxes, and in strong-arming bar owners to use and pay for them. But the Gallo crew also provided muscle for the larger, more established Profaci crime family, and “Crazy Joe” played his wiseguy role with aplomb. In 1959, he showed up for nationally televised Senate hearings in a black shirt and dark sunglasses, then did his best to turn Washington’s investigation of organized crime into a joke. The suspected hit man was also impatient with jukebox revenues. In 1960, he and his brothers attempted a coup and set off a bloody gangland war. The Profacis prevailed, but not before Joey Gallo became a folk hero.

His appeal was no mystery, said Steve Lewis in BlackBook. Even kids of that era understood that Joey Gallo was “the rogue gangster” who, like other rebel heroes of the era, “questioned the status quo” of the world he came from—and thus drove the authorities mad. In Tom Folsom’s lively new book, Joey is “part thug, part beatnik,” said Michael Hill in the Associated Press. He spends a 10-year prison term speed-reading Camus, Sartre, and Nietzsche, then emerges in 1971 spouting tabloid-ready one-liners and palling about town with actors and writers. Folsom sometimes lays on the “hipster lingo” so thick that his fast-moving tale can be hard to follow, but his “Beat-inspired rat-a-tat prose fits the material.”

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“Ultimately, Joey’s biggest splash was the one he made” in April 1972, when he was gunned down on his 43rd birthday in a restaurant in Manhattan’s Little Italy, said John Weisman in The Washington Times. The murder was never solved, but it helped win Gallo immortality as the hero of the 1976 Bob Dylan ballad “Joey.” The Gallo brothers were also featured in Jimmy Breslin’s comic novel The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, said Charles Paolino in the Asbury Park, N.J., Press. But Folsom’s “highly entertaining” take on the whole saga “makes a reader wonder” why Breslin resorted to fiction. The real story is “outlandish” enough.

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